Beginning

  • Drama
  • By David Eldridge
  • Directed by Polly Findlay
  • Cast: Justine Mitchell and Sam Troughton
  • National Theatre, London
  • Until 14 November 2017
  • Review by Lucy Ashe
  • 13 October 2017
Beginning
4.0Reviewer's Rating

The curtain opens on the messy aftermath of a house warming party, the clock ticking at 2.45am. Seemingly an odd opening to a play titled Beginning, this chaotic naturalistic stage set is the perfect representation of the fragile emotional states of the two protagonists: Laura and Danny. David Eldridge has written a masterpiece of comic drama: Beginning is both a poignant reflection on being lonely, as well as an hysterical satire on the absurdities of dating in today’s world.
Laura is beautiful, slim, a home owner in the ‘pesto triangle’ of Crouch End, and single: her image of confident independence seems to make her the ideal 21st century feminist. Danny is a bit chubby (sorry Sam Troughton…), his shirt covered in ketchup, lives with his mum and nan, and makes unfortunate misogynistic comments. They don’t have the best of beginnings. Every time one of them speaks, every revelation about their lives, it threatens to tear them apart before they have even begun. But somehow, throughout the hour and 40 minutes, they manage to start something. I won’t say something special, because the likely of it all turning out well is depressingly slim, but there is a connection all the same. There is no doubt that David Eldridge has a shrewd insight into human desires, pains, and needs. The play leaves us subtly changed: you exit the theatre questioning everything you thought you knew about feminism, chauvinism, and the intense hurt of a lonely life. Of course, another reaction could be of bemused anger: how can Eldridge assume to create a female protagonist whose independent success is just a façade behind which she hides her broken dream of babies and a family? Her day dream about a conventional life of kids, a garden, a cruise holiday, and a man, sits awkwardly next to feminist narratives of change. But I don’t think an out-dated return to a life of conventions and babies was Eldridge’s intention here: he simply seems to be saying that our external images may be just that: an image that we present to the world through social media, behind which lie so many unspoken cracks.
Justine Mitchell is utterly convincing. She encapsulates the independent single beauty, the type of woman who provokes jealous sighs from all her friends. She seems to have the perfect life style of choice, but underneath she is living a ‘shell of activities’, having parties to drown out the silence. Sam Troughton is equally impressive. He makes us see beyond the sad smoker, the live at home failure, the man whose affair broke up his family. Troughton’s performance is a powerful reminder that our judgements on others are so often simply wrong. Polly Findlay has directed some highly effective moments: simple actions like making a fish-finger sandwich, or dancing awkwardly while a pathetic little disco ball whirls, are memorable. When they finally take off their clothes, the question of the condom looming over them, the audience’s silence is telling. Eldridge never lets his audience relax, but the comedy, the touching sadness, and the humanness of the characters, makes this an important play for today’s world.

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